Saturday, October 25, 2008

Santiago’s El Centro District Swings Again!

Daytime Business hub offers varied wining, dining and dancing by night

Just the facts

Getting there
As from September 3, 2008, Lan Chile departs for Santiago every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from Terminal 3 at
Pearson International Airport. There is a stop at New York in one of the brand new Boeing 767s that South America´s premier airline recently acquired as part of a US$100 million renewal plan.
El Centro is a $17 (U.S. ) cab ride from Santiago’s airport. (Ask the driver for Plaza de Armas but first buy a transfer voucher at one of the authorised cab company stands ). From there you can access the major sites either by foot or El Metro (subway ).
EL CENTRO: Start at the Plaza de Armas square from where you are four blocks away from Santa Lucia Hill (700 metre high lookout point) and three blocks from the historic La Moneda Palace. Also at the square is the subway station of the same name for fast access to other areas.

Sheraton San Cristobal. Av.Santa Maria 1742, $284-$300-$330. 56-02-2335000.
Hotel Ciudad de Vitoria, Monjitas 527 at corner of Mosqueto,56-02-6333150, $69,$79. (All prices in US$).
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Santiago gets very hot and dry during the summer months (December, January and February) so caps, tee shirts and shorts are useful. Nights are cooler so wear a light jacket and trousers. US dollars are accepted as payment for hotel stays, guided tours, to buy souvenirs such as Bluestone jewellery and for meals at some restaurants (tips at 10%).

It’s a sure bet that this season many Americans,Canadians and Europeans will enjoy a few days here at the start or end of their cruise ship adventure around the Cape Horn. In stark contrast to the Cape’s Antarctic waters it will be hot and dry in El Centro amidst its eclectic mix of Spanish colonial, Neo-Classic European and contemporary American architecture. During the day the suit and ties worn by many locals evidences the city’s daytime business character that at night is substituted by intense cultural and social interaction. A must is a visit to the Pre Columbus Art Museum located on the corner of Compañía and Bandera, only a block away from the Plaza de Armas.
Initially the private collection of a member of the local aristocracy, on display are thousands of gold and silver artefacts as well as pottery and textile pieces made by the Incas and previous civilisations. As you exit the Museum take a left turn along the gallery and stop at the El Rapido restaurant and try the empanadas. These are hot pies whose two most popular varieties include mincemeat and sliced onion or just melted cheese, that can be accompanied by a variety of wine brands.
Three blocks down from El Rapido is probably Santiago’s most famous landmark, the La Moneda Presidential Palace. Most foreign visitors recall the black and white images of four decades ago when the building was engulfed by flames after an aerial bombardment. The gloomy days of Mr. Pinochet´s brutal police state are past and at present it’s lively Madame Bachelet that runs the show. If you get to the Palace’s Moneda street entrance by 10:00 a.m you’ll be just in time to see the Carabineros police corps carry out its disciplined change of guard ceremony.

Don’t get alarmed to hear a loud explosion on weekdays, it’s not a bomb but a Spanish colonial tradition that has lingered.

To mark midday a cannon is fired from the nearby Santa Lucia Hill, its summit being another good option to visit.

With no entrance fee and a 700 metre high lookout to its view is certainly worth the climb. Near the back exit of the hill (corner of Santa Lucia and Victoria Subercaseaux) a new culinary and intellectual enclave has emerged around the Bellas Artes Museum (national art museum).

Street cafes, bookstores and restaurants abound with the surrounding vegetation of the Parque Forestal. Only ten minutes away (less than five by subway, get on at Bellas Artes station and off at Baquedano) is Bellavista, Santiago’s premier nightlife district.
“That’s the Venezia restaurant, it’s open all night, just like all the other bars and discotheques around here. See those at the end of the block? They are for gays and lesbians,” an enthusiastic waiter explains. If during the day the district´ s many restaurants such as the Venezia (a favourite with Nobel winning poet Pablo Neruda whose house-museum is only few blocks away are full of customers, it’s the nightlife that has made Bellavista famous. Countless discotheques cater to public of different ages and spending power but with similar practices. All arrive there after midnight and its only between 1 a.m to 2 a.m that the party is in full swing, fuelled by a wide assortment of legal and illegal stimulants. Among the legal substances is Pisco, Chile´s national spirit, similar in alcohol content and colour to vodka but made from grapes. A few glasses of either the Piscola (mixed with Coca Cola) or the Pisco Sour (with lemon juice) will have you soaring in a few minutes. What time does the partying end at Bellavista? It doesn’t. At semi-clandestine establishments known as After-Hours the dancing and drinking continues from 5 a.m. until noon or sometimes later. It is not easy to get into an After-Hour, usually a secret password is needed at the door, but you can inquire with our friend the waiter, he is sure to know!
But there is more to Santiago than just wining and dining, since its outskirts of offers spectacular natural attractions. Inquire at your hotel about the guided tours either by car or van that will take you for winetasting at the Concha y Toro vineyard ($30), rafting at the Maipo River Valley ($40),or to the Mountain Ski resorts($40) for 3000 metre vistas where condors glide for hours .( All prices per person and in US dollars).

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